As we approach the end of the year - and the continuation of the coronavirus pandemic that has not ended and I’m tired of people saying it has - we’re seeing the anti-remote brigade begin to lower their pitchforks, in part because the Omicron variant is making it unsafe to be around other people again. Nevertheless, the Wall Street Journal decided to jam a knife in my skull with a piece called “Work-Life Balance Finally Happened. Then They Were Called Back to the Office.”
Before we get into the actual piece, I want to remark upon its hypocrisy. Feintzeig herself wrote a pro-snitching article about people working two jobs, and the Journal itself has written too many anti-remote pieces to count. Wanna know how your “work-life” balance got disrupted? Because you continually published articles to attack remote work and failed to acknowledge that you were doing so in any meaningful way. While I get that different people write at different outlets on different subjects, it is either ignorance or hypocrisy that leads to a piece like this being drafted and submitted without an awareness of the Journal’s work against working from home.
The piece itself is the usual combination of anecdotes and softball analysis, highlighting a young woman who took a $20,000 pay cut to work remotely, only to find out that…the company was demanding everybody back to the office for three days out of the week. Now, as a guy who sometimes pretends to be a journalist, I have a really specific question - she took a pay cut to work remotely, and then…they expect her to come into work? Hey, if I were a reporter, I’d ask for a little more detail, such as “so what did you take the pay cut for?” and perhaps talk to an employment lawyer about it!
I’m not going to go through the article piece-by-piece, because I find it very, very dull - these pieces feel like they’re computer-generated to be slightly annoying, but also don’t seem to have an audience other than bosses who want to look concerned but not be concerned about what their workers want.
Never has that been more obvious than this quote:
Present your manager with time-limited experiments: You’ll log off at 3 p.m. for the next four Tuesdays, for example, to volunteer at your child’s school or fit in a workout. Stress that you think it will improve your job performance since you won’t feel distracted or pulled in two different directions. And present a way to measure outcomes. Are you still hitting your project deadlines or sales quotas, or even exceeding them?
A hearty “lol” from me, chief! If a company forces you back to the office, I can almost guarantee you that they do not give a rat’s ass about whatever you’re doing with your kid. And no manager I’ve ever heard of would arbitrarily let you take four Tuesdays off at 3 PM - and my god, the disconnect between those writing about work and those working is frustrating. Many managers either lack the power to approve these things or do not want to - and to paraphrase one of my followers, has anyone who worked on this piece ever worked an hourly job in their life?
None Of This Is That Complex
Having read at least one hundred different articles on the Great Resignation, I have reached a point where I believe that people are actively seeking a complex answer to what is a straightforward problem: people are quitting their jobs because the compensation does not match the conditions and the tasks they are being made to work in.
The reason people are quitting now is because the pandemic was a vivid, grotesque painting of how unfair the American economy is to most people and how little loyalty any company has to any worker below the C-suite. Companies had nearly half a trillion dollars of Paycheck Protection Program funds forgiven - stimulus checks were means-tested for regular people, and student loan repayments begin in February 2022 - while the SBA deferred payments on Economic Injury Disaster Loans for a year back in March. And many companies that took federal aid still laid off people.
Workers got a blunt message: corporations do not give a single shit about you, and the government loves them more.
On top of that, despite workers proving to companies that working from home doesn’t reduce productivity (and may increase it), many loudly declared that a return to the office was necessary for “culture.” And article after article spread propaganda about how bad remote work was for companies, despite their actual workers proving otherwise. In some cases, the articles used deliberately skewed data to make their case.
People are likely quitting because for years, they’ve been gaslit into believing that companies care about them, and when the time came for companies to care for them, the workers themselves have been demonized as demanding and petulant. This isn’t workers waking up and “deciding to care less about work” - this is the wake-up call that many have needed to realize that they should be as mercenary and opportunistic as the companies they’ve been working for.
Workers are taught to “stick around” and “climb the corporate ladder” and to stick at a company for a year to prove that they’re not inconsistent. We’re taught as kids that loyalty to a company is good and that we’ll be rewarded for our hard work in tough times with bonuses, promotions, and perks. The reality was 4% of employers had dropped an insurance benefit as a result of COVID-19 a few months into the pandemic - and that companies aren’t remotely loyal to their workers. While they expect you to “huddle up” and “get through the tough times” with them when it suits them, the same companies will also find a way to fire you the second you can - and if you quit when times are tough, people will tell you you’re disloyal and “can’t tough it out.”
The pandemic has revealed that corporate loyalty is bullshit and that all the myths we’ve been told about why we work so hard are too. We have been groomed to believe that investing our time and energy in the companies we work with is a moral good, despite what the reality may be. And companies simply don’t invest in their workers - they expect them to do stuff from day one.
The media (and the executives they quote) are having miniature malfunctions around the great resignation because so much of the conversation is predicated on buying into a lie about how companies and workers interact. Take this CNBC quote:
“We believe that this resignation dynamic is mostly a symptom of other underlying forces that are affecting labor market participation, rather than a cause,” Barclays deputy chief U.S. economist Jonathan Millar and others wrote in a lengthy analysis.
“Indeed, the high quit rate is a red herring for understanding the sluggish return of workers to the US labor market following the COVID-19 pandemic, in our view,” Millar wrote. “Instead, the true cause is a hesitation of workers to return to the labor force, due to influences tied to the pandemic such as infection risks, infection-related illness, and a lack of affordable childcare.”
They will do quite literally anything to get away from holding companies accountable for mistreating workers at scale. They will not discuss the Kellogg’s Strike, or the Wirecutter Union’s successful strike against the New York Times, because these strikes show that by and large people want more money and better working conditions. Muddying the problem makes it easier to guilt people into staying at jobs, and to perpetuate the lie that this is actually about the pandemic.
I will say that there is one correct nugget in there - childcare. The lack of affordable childcare in America (along with the lack of affordable healthcare) is one major way in which workers are trapped in shitty jobs - they become dependent on the services offered, or the income to pay for things like child and healthcare that should be a right, not a privilege. And yet people are still walking out of these jobs, because of how flagrantly they’ve been shown that while they are expected to treat their company like a precious gem that must be buffed and admired, they are only as special as the company feels like making them.
Workers realize that they deserve better, and corporations responded by saying they had a “labor shortage” caused by them treating and paying workers poorly. While corporations are happy to fire someone who’s not doing their work, they are astounded that their workers can also fire their company for not providing them with compensation and conditions befitting said work.
This endless, meaningless blathering by corporations about how they “don’t get” why people are quitting is an attempt to obfuscate their lead role in the great resignation. It is tough to get work - even in a supposed labor shortage - because of the giant walls of HR that give workers a 1 in 250 chance and because of the sheer amount of steps a worker must go through to get hired. And when you get it, companies act as if you should be grateful for the opportunity versus participating in an exchange of labor for compensation.
The balance between workers and corporations is changing because corporations are losing their ability to manipulate the media and their workers into believing that they should be grateful for work. And workers are angry because they’ve spent the best part of two years being left for dead by corporations and the government, only to be told that they’re causing a labor shortage.
Be Grateful For Your Workers
Before I wrote this, I finished my PR agency’s Year In Review, and I spent a good chunk of it thanking people generally and personally for their hard work. I am endlessly grateful for the people that work for me - that they work so hard, but also that they work so hard for me when they could do so for somebody else. I do what I can to compensate them both in money and conditions, and continually make sure I’m not doing anything that makes their personal or professional lives harder.
If you are reading this and run a company, or have subordinates, I want you to evaluate whether you treat them well. This isn’t meant to make you feel guilty, but if it does, there’s probably a reason. The greatest “leaders” are just people that consider their workers human beings and act accordingly, which likely includes paying them more and working them less.
I am very grateful to be able to run a company, and I am grateful to those who fuel this engine. If you run one and are not grateful to everyone - down to the lowest position - you are the problem, and I hope everybody resigns tomorrow.